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IT failures help speed demise of Child Support Agency

Tash Shifrin

The crisis-ridden Child Support Agency (CSA) will be axed, work and pensions secretary John Hutton will tell the House of Commons today.

The move follows last month’s damning National Audit Office report on the agency and its procurement of IT systems.

The report confirmed Hutton’s earlier admission that the CSA had “failed” and was not fit for purpose. Around £3.5bn in child maintenance payments are still outstanding.

The NAO revealed that the Treasury’s Office of Government Commerce secretly agreed that deployment of a new £456m IT system, built by EDS,  should go ahead, despite known critical defects.

The public spending watchdog blamed the system’s failure on the CSA as well as its IT supplier, pointing to lack of clarity in deciding what was required from the IT and lack of compliance by staff with the new system.

The damning NAO verdict followed a series of earlier reports as the fiasco unfolded. An inquiry launched by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee found last year that the IT system was “nowhere near being fully functional”.

It highlighted a lack of transparency, poor planning, absence of management information and a breakdown in communication with its IT contractors as contributing to the catastrophic implementation of the new IT system in 2003.

But the MPs also pointed to “organic and systemic” problems at the CSA, adding that correcting the IT problems would not be enough to bring the agency’s work up to standard.

It also emerged last year that hundreds of thousands of cases held on an old IT system were still waiting to be transferred, two years after the new EDS system went live.

And a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions found that poorly paid, demoralised staff entered false information into systems in a bid to bypass software controls, deleted cases and stockpiled claims – sometimes for years.

Hutton’s announcement today will be accompanied by publication of a review of child support by Sir David Henshaw. Hutton is expected to announce that in future, parents will be urged to make their own child maintenance arrangements, with a new agency targeting those who do not co-operate.

 

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